Laura Ainsworth, Staff writer
A few months ago, I wrote about my experience with a social media platform that most people might not recognize as Big Tech, as it’s not as humungous as Facebook or Twitter. But it really is big --- worth a couple of billion dollars last time I counted. It’s called Nextdoor. You probably have it in your town. Maybe you’re a member and use it to talk to your neighbors about trash pick-up, car break-ins and missing pets. Especially missing pets.
As I said then, Nextdoor gives the appearance of something local, a way for neighbors to have the online equivalent of over-the-back-fence conversations, like in the “good old days” before social media, but it’s actually a global corporation headquartered in San Francisco and, as you will see, is quite reflective of that mindset. Their “Neighborhood Advisory Board” includes “diverse academics and experts, in the fields of social psychology, equality and civic engagement.”
As I used Nextdoor, I started noticing that when I typed certain words, a screen automatically came up that said “FACTS MATTER...” and lectured me, for example, on using the correct name of the virus: COVID-19. Refer to the Wuhan lab, or China, or concerns about the vaccines, or doubts about mask effectiveness, or anything else that wasn’t sanctioned information (much of which has turned out to be wrong), and your post would be removed. You might even go to “jail” and inexplicably be suspended from Nextdoor for a period of weeks. This happened to me once, and I hadn’t violated their so-called “community standards” even a little bit.
To give an idea, I once typed the word “homeless,” not even in the context of homeless people, and a screen came up telling me to “be kind” in my use of words. Similar screens –- I called them “nanny screens, and ND became “Nanny Dearest” –- would pop up every now and then, quite inappropriately, as I was always kind and always accurate.) Nextdoor was actively trying to “nudge” our use of language and guide the conversation.
It was last October when I wrote for Gov. Huckabee about Nextdoor finally crossing a line. A neighbor I’m calling “Andy” had started posting silly jokes –- very un-PC –- on Nextdoor, just to give people a little something to laugh about during the pandemic. This installment from our archives tells what happened to his fun little project, and also details my research into what Nextdoor actually is...
So here’s where we pick up our story. Andy formed a private group to post “Daily Laughter” instead of putting it in the General Comments, thinking that since it was something neighbors could choose to join or not join, the higher-ups would leave it alone. And for a while, that seemed to be the case. But a few days ago, one of his editions would not post, though he tried repeatedly.
Andy sent me a PM (private message) asking me to help him figure out if it had posted. I said that, no, I couldn’t see it. And then it occurred to me: something in it was being censored. “Send it to me in a PM,” I said, “and I’ll look at it and see if I can tell what they might have had a problem with.”
So he did. Overall, this edition of “Daily Laughter” seemed typical of what Andy sent out every day. But since I’ve done research on Critical Race Theory, specifically on materials that were used by organizations such as the Salvation Army, I knew there was a list of words and phrases that had been called into question for supposedly having “racial” overtones. One of these, unfortunately, was “black sheep.” It’s not intended to be racist, but that doesn’t mean purveyors of CRT view it as not-racist. Believe me, they can FIND a reason to “blacklist” (oops, there’s another one) just about ANYTHING as racist. From Max Avery at The Liberty Loft...
“The Critical Race Theory proponents assert that virtually anything anyone can imagine is racist. The names of certain animals are racist, music theories and genres can be considered racist in general, and even mathematics can be regarded as racist. According to CRT, racism is “normal” and not an aberration, and its advocates call this “systemic racism,” in which case Critical Race Theory is defined as “a study” of this so-called systemic racism by finding racism in all aspects of western society.”
I know, it’s hard to believe that anyone would consider this term racist. For example, Hunter Biden is definitely the black sheep of his family, but if anyone is an example of privilege, he’s it.
I digress. Anyway, the expression “black sheep” happened to appear in that day’s edition of “Daily Laughter,” with no racial context at all. I told Andy that I might have “cracked the code” –- gotten into these so-called progressives’ heads –- and figured out that this was the “problematic” choice of words in that day’s “Daily Laughter” and the likely reason he hadn’t been able to post. I said, “Let’s conduct a test! Try posting again, without the line containing the words “black sheep.”
He did, and it posted right away.
So Nextdoor really is interfering in the “neighborhood” conversation, sometimes, it seems, in subtle ways. We think we’re just talking to our neighbors, but we’re being monitored --- even, as I see now, in the private groups. (Because of the monitoring and constant threat of “going to jail,” I had already stopped posting in General Comments.) So, now what?
Andy wants to keep posting “Daily Laughter” for his group, and it’s such a nice thing for him to do. He works on this every day. Over 400 people have signed up, and we really like getting these old, corny “dad” jokes, “blonde” jokes,” “Little Johnny” jokes,” “man-walks-into-a-bar” jokes, etc. (I submitted a “How cold is it?” joke for yesterday, in keeping with the ice storm we’re having in Dallas-Ft. Worth: “How cold is it?” “It’s so cold, the local flasher is only describing himself.”)
I hope that made you laugh, because it’s time to get serious now, as the saddest part of this story is Andy’s most recent message to me. I had written him to say how offended I was --- and I’m not easily offended --- that Nextdoor had essentially flagged his content as racist, when I knew he would never post racist content and the members of this group would never want it. He wrote, “I agree. But I guess whatever they want to do. I’m not bowing down, I’m just tired of fighting with them!!! I will tell you one thing, if they put me in jail again, I’m done with Nextdoor!!!”
And that’s what Big Tech is counting on, that we’ll just get tired of fighting with them. They’re waiting a bit longer for us to learn to use the right pronouns and vocabulary and to accept that we can never joke about a long list of things. Well, count me OUT. Humor is my last stand, even it it’s just for the right to tell a “blonde joke.” This is a hill I would die on.